Tag Archives: Wichita city government

Visualization: Wichita check register

Wichita spending data presented as a summary, and as a list.

As part of an ongoing transparency project, I asked the City of Wichita for check register data. I’ve made the data available in a visualization using Tableau Public. Click here to access the visualization. To access a simple list in csv format, click here.

For more visualizations, click here.

Analyzing this data requires a bit of local knowledge. For example, there is a vendor named “Visit Wichita” that started to receive monthly payments in March 2015. What about payments for January and February? Those were made to a vendor named “Go Wichita,” which changed its name to “Visit Wichita.”

Similarly, there are payments made to both “Westar Energy” and “Westar Energy — EDI.” These are the same entities, just as “Visit Wichita” and “Go Wichita” are the same entity. To the city’s credit, the matching pairs have the same vendor number, which is good. But resolving this requires a different level of analysis.

Also, the purpose of payments may not be evident from the payee’s name. For example, “State Street” is the payee that has received the most money over the time period covered by this data. It is a custodial bank for the city’s retirement systems. 1

Of note, there are many checks issued in amounts $20 or less. Bank of America has estimated that the total cost of sending a business check ranges from $4 to $20. 2

It is by now routine for governmental agencies to post spending data like this, but not at the City of Wichita. Upon inquiry, city officials told me that the present financial management system “does not include many modern system features such as an ‘open checkbook.’” An “open checkbook” refers to a modern web interface where citizens can query for specific data and perhaps perform other analysis. An example is Denver’s open checkbook.

We’ve been promised a modern system for many years.

While the next-generation Wichita financial system will probably have such a feature, there’s no reason why citizens can’t experience some of the benefits now. The spreadsheet of spending data could easily be posted on the city’s website on a monthly basis. People like myself will take that data and make it more useful. The city has demonstrated that it is able to post documents to its website, so there is no reason why this should not be happening.

Example from the visualization. Click for larger.


Notes

  1. City of Wichita. Comprehensive Annual Financial Report. Available at http://www.wichita.gov/Finance/PensionDocuments/2015%20Pension%20CAFR.pdf.
  2. Wall Street Journal. U.S. Companies Cling to Writing Paper Checks. Available at https://www.wsj.com/articles/u-s-companies-cling-to-writing-paper-checks-1394494772.

Wichita being sued, alleging improper handling of bond repayment savings

A lawsuit claims that when the City of Wichita refinanced its special assessment bonds, it should have passed on the savings to the affected taxpayers, and it did not do that.

A lawsuit filed in Sedgwick County District Court charges that the City of Wichita improperly handled the savings realized when it refinanced special assessment bonds at a lower interest rate. The case is 2018-CV-001567-CF, filed on July 13, 2018, and available here.

The suit names David L. Snodgrass and Leslie J. Snodgrass as plaintiffs, and a long list of defendants, namely:

  • The City of Wichita, Kansas
  • Wichita City Manager Robert Layton
  • Wichita Finance Director Shawn Henning and Former Wichita Finance Director Kelly Carpenter
  • Wichita City Clerk Karen Sublett
  • Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell and former Wichita Mayor Carl Brewer
  • Current Wichita City Councilmembers Brandon Johnson, Pete Meitzner, James Clendenin, Jeff Blubaugh, Bryan Frye, and Cindy Claycomb
  • Former Wichita City Councilmembers Lavonta Williams, Janet Miller, Sue Schlapp, Paul Gray, Jeff Longwell, Jim Skelton, and Michael O’Donnell
  • Springsted Incorporated
  • Gilmore And Bell, A Professional Corporation
  • Kutak Rock, LLP
  • Sedgwick County Treasurer Linda Kizzire

The suit asks for a class to be created consisting of “all other affected land owners paying excess special assessments,” which would, undoubtedly, be many thousands of land owners. No specific amount of relief is requested.

The suit’s basis

The city borrows money by issuing bonds to fund improvements to (generally) new neighborhoods. These bonds pay for things like residential streets, water pipes, and sewer lines. The debt service for these bonds, that is, the money needed to make the bond payments, is charged to benefitting property owners in the form of special assessment taxes, often called “specials.” These specials are separate from the general property taxes that are charged to all property.

General property taxes are based on a property’s assessed value multiplied by a mill levy rate. Specials, however, are based on the cost of the infrastructure and the payments needed to retire the debt. This amount is determined at the time bonds are sold and the repayment schedule is established. (Bond payments depend on the amount borrowed, the length of the repayment period, and the interest rate. All this is known at the time the bonds are issued.)

These specials usually last 15 years, and after paid, no longer appear on a property’s tax bill. Sometimes special assessments are prepaid.

What the city did, and didn’t do, according to plaintiffs

During the last decade, interest rates on long-term bonds generally fell. In response, the city issued refunding bonds. These bonds took advantage of low interest rates by paying off old bonds that had higher interest rates, replacing them with bonds with lower interest rates. The lawsuit alleges that since 2009, the city has issued $216 million in refunding bonds saving $60.2 million, according to city documents cited in the lawsuit. The suit does not specify how much of this savings is attributed to special assessment bonds.

So the city refinanced special assessment debt at a lower rate, reducing the cost of the debt. That’s good. Homeowners often do this when mortgage rates are low, and it’s good that the city does this too.

The problem, according to the lawsuit, is that some of the refinanced debt was special assessment debt. The lawsuit contends that, based on Kansas law, the city should have passed on the savings to the property owners that were paying off this special assessment debt. Instead, says the suit, “the City of Wichita transferred the excess special assessment money paid by affected Wichita taxpayers to support its general fund and/or other municipal funds.” In other words, the city spent the savings on other things, when it should have directed the savings to land owners who were paying the special taxes.

Plaintiffs allege that the conduct of the city and its advisors constitutes fraud against those paying special assessment taxes:

The fraudulent actions of Defendant City of Wichita, along with the other Wichita Defendants, and Defendants Springsted, Gilmore and Bell and Kutak Rock resulted in the misappropriation of millions of dollars of “saved” tax payments that should have been returned to Plaintiffs along with all other affected land owners paying special assessments levied under the General Improvement and Assessment Laws of the State of Kansas.

Further, the suit alleges that the liability faced by many of the defendants is personal:

Because the Wichita Defendants actively participated in the fraud practiced by Defendant City of Wichita, they cannot escape personal liability for the fraudulent actions of the City of Wichita upon Plaintiffs and all other affected land owners paying special assessments.

While there is one named party as plaintiff, the suit alleges that all similarly situated persons have been harmed, and so a class action is appropriate. That would be all property owners who have paid special assessment taxes to Wichita since 2009, including myself.

WichitaLiberty.TV: Sedgwick County and Wichita issues

In this episode of WichitaLiberty.TV: The end of a Sedgwick County Commission election, the Wichita Eagle editorializes on school spending and more taxes, and Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell seems misinformed on the Wichita economy. View below, or click here to view at YouTube. Episode 207, broadcast August 26, 2018.

Shownotes

Wichita Eagle calls for a responsible plan for higher taxes

A Wichita Eagle editorial argues for higher property taxes to help the city grow.

In a recent op-ed, the Wichita Eagle editorial board writes: “It’s hard to make the argument that Wichitans are overtaxed by their city government. It’s time for the community to look at how it helps the city grow. A responsible plan that asks Wichita families to chip in the cost of a family meal should be part of the conversation.” 1

First, note that some factual elements of the editorial board’s argument are incorrect, as I show in Wichita Eagle argues for higher taxes.

The argument that a tax increase is only “the cost of a family meal” is weak. (From the editorial: “A 1-mill increase would cost a property owner $11.50 annually for every $100,000 of appraised value of a home.”) In other words, it’s just a little bit. Just one dollar each month. You won’t even notice it.

This is a standard argument made by those who want higher taxes and those who oppose tax cuts. The problem is just that: Everyone makes this argument, and when added together, the nickels and dimes add up to real money.

Besides, there are families in Wichita who have trouble paying for family meals.

Then, there’s the effect on business. An ongoing study reveals that generally, property taxes on commercial and industrial property in Wichita are high. Specifically, taxes on commercial property in Wichita are among the highest in the nation. Commercial property is taxed at 2.180 times the rate as residential property. (The U.S. average is 1.683.) Because Wichita’s ratio is high, it leads to high property taxes on commercial property. 2

Raising taxes on commercial enterprise shifts economic activity from the private sector to government. Citizens may want to ask where money is spent most beneficially.

The Eagle editorial board says higher property taxes could help the city grow. There’s no doubt the city needs help growing. But given the record of our local government leaders — both elected and bureaucratic — it’s difficult to see how giving them more money to spend will help.

WaterWalk, downtown Wichita, September 30, 2014. There has been little change since then, except for the loss of Gander Mountain.
As an example of government helping the city grow, consider the Waterwalk development in downtown Wichita. Despite some $41 million in taxpayer subsidy, the development languishes. On top of that, the city doesn’t enforce agreements that might benefit taxpayers. 3

The Wichita Eagle editorialized “Seven years into a project that was supposed to give Wichita a grand gathering place full of shops, restaurants and night spots as well as offices and condos, some City Council members and citizens remain skeptical at best about WaterWalk’s ability to deliver on its big promises. … True, the skepticism to date is richly deserved.” 4

Oh. That editorial was written in 2009, nine years ago. Since then, there has been some improvement, like the Marriott Fairfield Inn and Suites Hotel and the fountain. But, Gander Mountain — the development’s retail anchor — closed.

The present Eagle editorial board calls for a “responsible plan.” But when we see the city spending on things like Waterwalk and then failing to uphold agreements designed to protect taxpayers — well, the city hasn’t been acting responsibly.

Contrast downtown’s Waterwalk with Waterfront, a development at 13th and Webb Road in east Wichita that started around the same time as Waterwalk. There, developers spent millions of their own money to build a beautiful parkway, sewers, traffic lights, and the like. 5

Merchants at Wichita’s Waterfront. Click for larger.
It is at Waterfront where we see large first-class office buildings and small executive offices. It is there we find desirable nationally-known restaurants like Abuelo’s Mexican Food Embassy, Bonefish Grill, PF Chang’s China Bistro, and Red Robin. We also see fine local restaurants like Chester’s Chophouse & Wine Bar. It is at Waterfront we find lodging like Homewood Suites by Hilton, retail stores like Ethan Allen, and the city’s only Whole Foods Market.

All this at Waterfront was done without help from the taxpayers, unlike downtown’s Waterwalk consuming our $41 million. Other popular developments like Bradley Fair and New Market Square were developed with little or no government help.

Trends of business activity in downtown Wichita. Click for larger.
Even the subsidized “development” that most people agree is a success is not all it’s cracked up to be. That is downtown Wichita, where there has been hundreds of millions in private and public investment over the past decade. The result is that over the same time, business activity in downtown Wichita has been on a downhill trend. The data for 2016 (the most recent year for data) is a bit of good news, with the decline stopping and business activity remaining mostly unchanged. It isn’t the vibrant growth we’ve been told is happening in downtown Wichita, but at least things are not getting worse. 6

So: Do we trust Wichita’s political and bureaucratic leaders to develop a “responsible plan?” Give this record, do we want to shift more resources from the private sector to the government sector?

Competing tax hikes

It’s surprising that the Eagle editorial board would recommend higher property taxes right now. That’s because it’s likely we’ll be asked to approve more taxation, probably soon. There is support among the city’s elite for a renovated or new performing arts and convention center, something that probably can’t be done without more tax revenue. Project Wichita is seen by many as an effort to persuade the region for higher taxes.

Also: In 2014 the steering committee for the Wichita/Sedgwick County Community Investments Plan delivered a report to the Wichita City Council. This report told the council that the “cost to bring existing deficient infrastructure up to standards” is an additional $45 to $55 million per year over current levels of spending. 7

I’m not aware of the city directing additional spending to cure this maintenance gap. As time passes, the gap becomes larger. Although: The city decided to spend an additional $10 million on street repair. But that was a one-time infusion made available when the city sold a capital asset.

This backlog of maintenance is a manifestation of the city not being responsible with assets Wichita taxpayers paid for. And if it is true that we need to spend an additional $45 to $55 million per year, where will the city get those funds? The Eagle urges a one mill property tax increase, which it says means the “city budget would gain $3.5 million to $4 million.” To fix our maintenance backlog would require a property tax increase of over ten mills, if that is how the city decides to raise the funds.


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle editorial board. Wichita, it’s time to consider a tax increase. It’s past time, actually. August 17, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article216790960.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita business property taxes still high. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-business-property-taxes-still-high/.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Wichita WaterWalk contract not followed, again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-waterwalk-contract-not-followed/.
  4. Weeks, Bob. Wichita’s Waterwalk failure breeds skepticism. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichitas-waterwalk-failure-breeds-skepticism/.
  5. Weeks, Bob. Many Wichita developers pay for infrastructure. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/many-wichita-developers-pay-for-infrastructure/.
  6. Weeks, Bob. Downtown Wichita business trends. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/downtown-wichita-business-trends-2016/.
  7. Weeks, Bob. Wichita sales tax does little to close maintenance gap. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-sales-tax-little-close-maintenance-gap/.

Sedgwick County jobs, first quarter 2018

For the first quarter of 2018, the number of jobs in Sedgwick County grew, but at a rate slower than the nation.

Data released today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor shows an improving labor picture in Sedgwick County, but one growing at one-fifth the rate of the nation.

For the first quarter of 2018 there were 12,500 establishments in Sedgwick County employing 247,800 workers. That is an increase in jobs of 0.3 percent from the same time the previous year, a rate which ranked 293 among the nation’s 350 largest counties. For the same period, the national job growth rate was 1.6 percent.

(Ranked by labor force, Sedgwick County is the 120th largest county.)

The average weekly wage was $967, an increase of 2.4 percent over the year, that change ranking 228 among the same 350 largest counties. The U.S. average weekly wage increased 3.7 percent over the same period.

Wichita Eagle argues for higher taxes

The Wichita Eagle editorial board wants higher taxes. Relying on its data and arguments will lead citizens to misinformed and uninformed opinions.

In a recent op-ed, the Wichita Eagle editorial board writes: “From the moment the budget was first proposed in July, city leaders made a point of emphasizing the city’s mill levy — the rate by which property is taxed — hasn’t been increased in 25 years. The 25-year figure wasn’t followed by exclamation points of pride or emojis of sadness. It’s just a fact: For one reason or another, the city’s mill levy hasn’t been increased.” 1

I guess we shouldn’t be too harsh on the Eagle editorial board. They believed city leaders. And, I suppose the language is correct in one sense: “the city’s mill levy hasn’t been increased.”

But a quick look at readily available data shows that the City of Wichita mill levy has increased, and by quite a bit.

I don’t have data going back 25 years, but I have gathered and prepared data from 1993 to 2017. And during that time, the City of Wichita mill levy rose from 31.290 to 32.667. That is an increase of 4.40 percent.

It is true that the Wichita City Council did not pass an ordinance to cause this mill levy rate to rise. This is where “hasn’t been increased” holds a grain of truth.

Instead, the mill levy rate is set by the county based on the city’s budgeted spending and the assessed value of taxable property subject to City of Wichita taxation. Someone estimates the assessed value of property the city can tax, and that is subject to error.

The city acknowledges this when pressed. It’s on video. 2

But city leaders and elected officials act as though the mill levy is subject to the whims of forces beyond their control.

While the city doesn’t have control over the assessed value of property, it does have control over the amount it decides to spend. As can be seen in the chart of changes in the mill levy, the council’s decisions result in a generally rising mill levy. From 1993 to 2017, there were seventeen years in which the mill levy rose from the previous year, and six years in which it declined.

We have an estimating process that ought to be random — too high in half the years, too low in the other half — overwhelmingly producing higher tax rates. This nearly three-to-one ratio is beyond mere chance or coincidence.

Also, while some may argue that an increase of 4.40 percent over two decades is not very much, this is an increase in a rate of taxation, not tax revenue collected. As property values rise, and as the mill levy rises, property tax bills can rise rapidly.

But it doesn’t seem that the Eagle editorial board understands this, as it wrote: “A 2019 budget can’t be expected to function properly under 1994 tax rates. Nearly everything a city does costs more a quarter-century later.”

True, I suppose. But the data tells us that property tax revenue rises, and rises faster than the rate of inflation, if inflation is what the editorial board means when it writes that things cost more.

In the nearby table, I use a hypothetical $100,000 home and track the taxes paid to the City of Wichita. I use a home price index to track increases in residential home values. I use the Consumer Price Index to adjust dollars for inflation.

In the table, a $100,000 house paid $360 in taxes to the City of Wichita in 1994. In 2017, the same house paid $665. The increase is due to rising property values and the rising mill levy.

Adjusting for inflation to 2017 dollars, the tax paid in 1994 was worth $595. In 2017, the tax was $665, in 2017 dollars, of course.

So from 1994 to 2017, the property tax paid to the City of Wichita by this hypothetical house rose by 11.7 percent, in inflation-adjusted dollars.

When the Eagle editorial board writes “Nearly everything a city does costs more a quarter-century later,” the response ought to be “Yes, but property taxes paid by citizens on their homes are rising faster than inflation.”

This needs to be considered in the light of cuts the city has made and threatens in the future.

Click for larger.


Notes

  1. Wichita Eagle editorial board. Wichita, it’s time to consider a tax increase. It’s past time, actually. August 17, 2018. Available at https://www.kansas.com/opinion/editorials/article216790960.html.
  2. Weeks, Bob. Wichita property taxes rise again. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-property-taxes-rise/.

Kansas and Wichita jobs, July 2018

For July 2018, more jobs in Kansas, and a nearly unchanged labor force. Wichita jobs also rose.

Data released today from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving jobs picture for Kansas in July 2018.

Over the year (July 2017 to July 2018), the Kansas labor force is down slightly, while up slightly over the past three months. These changes are small, all being in the range of 0.1 percent.

The number of unemployed persons continues to fall. The unemployment rate remains at 3.4 percent, down from 3.6 percent from one year ago.

Click for larger.

The number of Kansas nonfarm jobs for July 2018 rose by 1.7 percent over last July, adding 23,400 jobs. This is using seasonally adjusted data, and the non-adjusted figure is larger at 24,900.

Click for larger.

This release also provided some data for metropolitan areas. For the Wichita MSA, here are employees on nonfarm payrolls, not seasonally adjusted:

July 2017: 290,600
June 2018: 297,700
July 2018: 295,200 (up 4,500 jobs, or 1.6 percent over the year)

Comparing June 2018 to July 2018 isn’t meaningful using this data, as it is not adjusted for seasonality.

Of note, the same data series for the nation rose from 146,486,000 to 148,901,000 over the year, an increase of 1.6 percent.

Wichita employment, June 2018

For the Wichita metropolitan area in June 2018, jobs are up, the unemployment rate is down, and the labor force is smaller, compared to the same month one year ago.

Data released this week by the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving employment situation for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area.

Click for larger.

The best numbers for Wichita are the total nonfarm employment series, which rose from 294,900 last June to 297,900 this June. That’s an increase of 3,000 jobs, or 1.0 percent. (This data is not seasonally adjusted, so month-to-month comparisons are not valid.)

Of note, the same series of data for the nation rose from 147,578,000 to 150,057,000 over the same time, an increase of 1.7 percent.

The unemployment rate fell to 4.0 percent from a year ago. Part of the improvement in the unemployment rate is due to a slightly smaller labor force.

Considering seasonally adjusted data from the household survey, the labor force rose slightly from May 2018, and employment was unchanged. This is a slowdown of a positive trend in the previous three months.

Click charts for larger versions.

The Wichita Mayor on employment

On a televised call-in show, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell is proud of the performance of the city in growing jobs.

On the inaugural episode of Call the Mayor on KPTS, Wichita’s public television station, Wichita Mayor Jeff Longwell said this:

Three years ago the biggest concern in this community is we need jobs. Jobs, jobs, jobs. And today, we need people. And so keeping Cargill in Wichita and seeing Spirit grow and seeing companies invest is far different than what we had just three years ago when people were so concerned about the opportunity to find meaningful employment in our city.

What the mayor said sounds good. Now. here are statistics from Bureau of Labor Statistics, civilian labor force and nonfarm employment by metropolitan area, seasonally adjusted, for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area:

May 2015
Civilian labor force: 311,294
Employment: 296,249
Unemployment rate: 4.8 percent

May 2018
Civilian labor force: 306,574 (down by 1.5 percent)
Employment: 295,012 (down by 0.42 percent)
Unemployment rate: 3.8 percent (down by 1.0 percentage point, or 20.8 percent)

These are statistics from the Local Area Unemployment Statistics (LAUS) data set, also known as the household survey.

Here are some other statistics, again from Bureau of Labor Statistics, state and area employment, seasonally adjusted, for the Wichita Metropolitan Statistical Area:

May 2015
Employment: 295,500

May 2018
Employment: 298,600 (up by 1.0 percent)

These are statistics from the Current Employment Statistics (CES) data set, sometimes called payroll data.

These are two different sets of data. One shows employment rising, and one shows it declining. The difference comes from the fact that one set of data comes from households, and the other from employers. For a full explanation of the data and how there can be these differences, see Visualization: Metro area employment and unemployment.

The important thing is that Mayor Longwell said, in a roundabout way, that there are plenty of jobs in Wichita, and there are not enough workers to fill them.

If there are not enough workers in Wichita, it’s because the labor force (the number of people working plus those looking for work) shrank over the time period the mayor mentioned. That’s why there are not enough people to meet Wichita’s job growth (such as it is).

And while the number of jobs in Wichita rose in the employer survey, it rose by 1.0 percent over three years. The same statistic for the entire United States rose by 5.1 percent over the same period. This doesn’t seem like much of an accomplishment, Wichita growing jobs at a rate one-fifth of the nation.

But Mayor Longwell is proud. Good for him.

An endorsement from the Wichita Chamber of Commerce

When the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce Political Action Committee endorses a candidate, consider what that means.

If you’ve been following analyst James Chung — and it seems like everyone has — he’s delivered a sobering message: The Wichita economy has not been growing. “[Wichita has been] stuck in neutral for about three decades, with basically no growth, amidst the landscape of a growing U.S. economy,” he said. (In fact, in 2016 the Wichita economy shrank from the previous year, and numbers for 2017 don’t look much better.)

Chung says we need to change our ways. In his June visit he said, and the Chung Report wrote, “Every market signal points to the same conclusion: The manner in which Wichita is operating during this critical point in our history is just not working.”

So what needs to change? Chung won’t say, but here are two things:

First, there are some elected officials and bureaucrats who have presided over the stagnation of Wichita. These people need to go.

Second, there are also institutions that are problems, with one glaring example. In one way or another, the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce has taken the lead in economic development for many years. In recent years the Chamber ran Greater Wichita Economic Development Coalition. Now the effort has been split off to a non-profit corporation, the Greater Wichita Partnership.

That sounds good, but under the hood it’s the same leadership and the same methods, although with a few new hired hands.

So when James Chung (and others) says our manner of operation is not working, it’s the Wichita Chamber of Commerce and its ecosystem that must assume a large portion of blame.

Not only has the Wichita Chamber manner of operation not been working, its leadership hasn’t been working, either. In 2014 the Chamber showed charts of Wichita job growth as compared to the nation and other cities, and Wichita was near the bottom. The Chamber’s response was to advocate for a Wichita city sales tax, some to be used for economic development, but also for water supply enhancement, street repair, and bus transit improvement.

The Chamber managed the political campaign for the sales tax, and in November 2014, 62 percent of Wichita voters said no.

After this, what did the Chamber do? It had told Wichitans that an economic development fund fed by sales tax revenue was essential. Then, the sales tax vote failed. But that isn’t the only way to fund what the Chamber said we needed. The Chamber could have asked the Wichita city council to raise property taxes, and the council could have done that with a simple majority vote of its members. (Since then it has become more difficult, but still possible, to raise local property taxes.)

Or, the city could have raised franchise fees. These are like a sales tax added to utility bills. This could also have been accomplished with a simple majority vote of the council. The council could do it today, if its members wanted to.

None of these possibilities were pursued, at least to my knowledge. The Wichita Chamber of Commerce, after advocating for a sales tax it said was essential, gave up after defeat. It recommended that Wichitans vote to impose a sales tax themselves, but when it came to something it could have accomplished — new taxes through city council votes — the Chamber backed away.

The Chamber then formed the Greater Wichita Partnership. But many of the people who supported the Chamber’s sales tax are directing the operations of GWP, serving its strategic advisory team and the more-exclusive executive board.

This includes the president and CEO of the Wichita Chamber, who was also president during the sales tax campaign.

The Chamber endorsements

So when the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC supports candidates, spends money on their behalf, and issues endorsements, what should voters think?

Voters should remember that the Wichita Chamber has presided over the wreckage of the Wichita economy, its leaders still call the shots, and still wants to raise taxes, I believe.

Plus, these people will not accept responsibility for the harm they have caused.

This is a shame, because we want to be proud of our civic leadership. We want to have faith in our elected officials and bureaucrats.

But that isn’t the case in Wichita. Keep this in mind when considering candidates endorsed by the Wichita Regional Chamber of Commerce PAC.

Kansas and Wichita jobs, June 2018

For June 2018, more jobs in Kansas, and a nearly unchanged labor force. Wichita jobs also rose.

Data released this week from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows an improving jobs picture for Kansas in June 2018.

Over the year (June 2017 to June 2018), the Kansas labor force is down slightly, while up slightly over the past three months. These changes are small, all being in the range of 0.1 percent.

The number of unemployed persons continues to fall. The unemployment rate remains at 3.4 percent.

Click for larger.

The number of Kansas nonfarm jobs for June 2018 rose by 1.8 percent over last June, adding 24,800 jobs. This is using seasonally adjusted data, and the non-adjusted figure is larger at 30,900.

Click for larger.

This release also provided some data for metropolitan areas. For Wichita, here are employees on nonfarm payrolls, not seasonally adjusted

June 2017: 294,900
May 2018: 300,600
June 2018: 297,900 (up 3,000 jobs, or 1.0 percent over the year)

Comparing May 2018 to June 2018 isn’t meaningful using this data, as it is not adjusted for seasonality.

Wichita business press needs to step up

If a newspaper is going to write a news story, it might as well take a moment to copy and paste information from a city council agenda packet. Especially when what is missing from the story is perhaps the most important information.

When the Wichita City Council approved an Industrial Revenue Bond issue at its July 10, 2018 meeting, the city’s business press covered the matter. In the Wichita Eagle, the story fails to mention the motivation for the item. 1

The meeting agenda packet for this item, very near its start, states plainly the benefits of the IRBs: “Cargill Incorporated (Cargill) is requesting a Letter of Intent (LOI) for the issuance of Industrial Revenue Bonds (IRBs) in an amount not to exceed $38,000,000 and an 81.5% five-plus-five-year tax abatement and a sales tax exemption for the construction of a new biodiesel facility in north Wichita.” 2

There it is, in plain sight and language: Cargill will save a lot of money in taxes by using these bonds. How much? The same city document details some of the savings:

Based on the current mill levy, the estimated tax value of exempted property for the first full year is $337,904. The value of an 81.5% real property tax exemption (assuming the property is appraised at 80% of the capital investment) as applicable to taxing jurisdictions is:

City $94,109
County $84,677
State $4,321
USD 259 $154,797

The agenda packet doesn’t give an amount for the value of the sales tax exemption, but if all $38,000,000 in bond proceeds was spent on taxable items, sales tax would be $2,850,000. The actual sales tax savings will likely be less than that, but still a lot. (We’ll likely never know, as the Kansas Department of Revenue won’t release the value of sales tax exemptions associated with bond issues.)

Why didn’t the Eagle report this? I don’t know. But the property and sales tax exemptions are the driving motivation behind almost all requests for IRBs. 3

It’s not the case that the company can’t obtain financing on the market. Many IRBs are purchased by the requesting company, as is the case with these bonds, according to the agenda packet: “The bonds will be privately placed with Cargill.”

Instead, Kansas law requires, in most cases, that to issue property and sales tax abatements, IRBs must be used. Again, from the agenda packet: “To insure that all of the real property improvements are receiving the tax abatement, the improvements must be bond financed.” 4

Why can’t the city council simply wave a magic wand and absolve Cargill of paying millions of dollars in property and sales taxes? This is what the city council did, but in a roundabout way.

But because the tax giveaway is mixed with confusing details of bonds, many citizens don’t notice the giveaway. Especially when our city’s leading newspaper does not report this.

Wichita Business Journal reporting was a little better, mentioning the property and sales tax exemptions, but not their monetary value. 5

This article also contains this: “With IRBs, the city serves as a pass-through entity for developers to obtain a lower interest rate on projects. IRBs require no taxpayer commitment.” This is language the newspaper often includes when reporting on IRB issues, and it is simply not true. In this case, a portion of this project qualifies for tax-exempt financing, as it is a solid waste processing facility. 6

But for the remainder of the project, as is the case for most IRB-funded projects, it is not likely the facility will save on interest costs with IRBs. The article is correct in that IRBs require no taxpayer commitment. The city makes no guarantee as to the bond repayment. If the city did guarantee repayment, that would help the borrower obtain a lower interest rate. But there is no guarantee.


Notes

  1. Finger, Stan. Wichita City Council approves bonds for Cargill expansion. Available at https://www.kansas.com/news/business/article214622565.html.
  2. Wichita City Council Agenda packet for July, 10, 2017. Item IV-1.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Industrial revenue bonds in Kansas. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/kansas-government/industrial-revenue-bonds-kansas/.
  4. As noted below, there is a slight wrinkle in this IRB issue, as some of the financed property is exempt from federal income taxes on interest payments and requires IRBs for that particular property. This is an unusual factor, and does not require that all the plant be financed with IRBs.
  5. Daniel McCoy and Bryan Horwath. City Council approves IRBs for Cargill biodiesel plant. Available at https://www.bizjournals.com/wichita/news/2018/07/10/city-council-approves-irbs-for-cargill-biodiesel.html.
  6. “The solid waste processing component qualifies under Internal Revenue Service (IRS) regulations for tax exempt financing, which can save the company interest expense. Of the total project, approximately $30,000,000 would qualify as a Solid Waste Processing Facility, and therefore, eligible for tax-exempt financing.” Agenda Packet for July 10, 2018.

New Wichita water plant

Next week the Wichita City Council will consider a major step in proceeding with a new Wichita water plant.

The central water plant in Wichita is old, and the city has been planning a new plant. The new facility is called the Northwest Water Treatment Facility (NWWTF). Much information is available in the agenda packet for the July 10, 2018 city council meeting.

The city plans to issue a letter of interest (LOI) to apply for a Water Infrastructure Finance and Innovation Act of 2014 (WIFIA) federal loan for up to 49 percent of the project cost, which at this time is estimated as $524,200,000.

The Environmental Protection Agency says that “Based on the information provided in the letter of interest, EPA will invite selected prospective borrowers to submit an application for WIFIA credit assistance.” This will not be the first time the city has attempted to use this financing source, according to city documents: “The City submitted a WIFIA LOI in 2017 but was not invited to apply.”

For the balance of the financing, the city says it intends to apply for a loan from the Kansas State Revolving Loan Fund (SRLF). The advantage to using these government financing sources, says the city, is “Both programs offer low, fixed interest rates and have less expensive financing costs compared to traditional revenue bonds. Repayment of WIFIA is not required until five years after construction is completed and repayment of SRLF begins two years after the first disbursement is received. The delayed repayment allows rates to be smoothed over time to minimize customer impacts, and the low cost of financing keeps the overall project cost down.”

Of note, the city intends to use an acquisition process that is different from the usual:

City staff have analyzed different project delivery methods and determined that a Hybrid DBo is the most beneficial approach. It pairs the lowest cost source of financing, which is available exclusively to the City, with the cost containment and project quality that can be delivered under a public-private partnership. This expertise also provides value-added engineering and access to advanced technologies that may lower total project costs. The key to getting the best of both approaches is to hire a Construction Management company with expertise in constructing similar treatment facilities. The City will also issue an RFP to select a Construction Management company that will oversee the selected DBo team.

In the LOI to the EPA, the city included this:

The City has considered and evaluated multiple project delivery approaches, including a range of possibilities from traditional design-bid-build to full privatization through a design-build-own- finance-operate and maintain model. Through these deliberations, the City has concluded that design-build with short-term operations presents the least risk and highest value. The City refers to this delivery approach as DBo, in which the operations component is a relatively short term of up to 5 years, including transitioning operations to the City. The City has selected a DBo approach for the following reasons:

  • Accelerated project delivery by overlapping design, permitting, and equipment procurement tasks (see Attachment 6, Project Schedule).
  • Optimal risk allocation by assigning risk to the party or parties that can best control those risks (see Table A-1).
  • Early cost certainty.
  • Highest value for money derived by leveraging the experience and capability of the designer, builder, and operator to achieve the optimal balance of capital and lifecycle costs.
  • Ability to “staff up” through the use of a contract operator during startup and commissioning of the NWWTF.
  • Ability to prepare for transition to City operation through robust training of the City’s operations leadership.
  • Ability to “staff down” once the City’s own operations forces are trained and available

Wichita water users need to follow this process carefully. The ASR project — a $247 million Wichita water project — has been underperforming by a large amount.

Project Wichita survey

The Project Wichita survey is about to end. Will it have collected useful data?

Project Wichita is “a community engagement process to identify the future we want for our home and the steps necessary to achieve it.” 1 So far it has held focus groups that collected ideas for the future of Wichita, in which “an astounding 3,800+ people 2 shared their vision in 239+ focus groups,” according to the project’s Facebook page. The survey, which is ending on July 6, is another component of the “listen” phase of the project, with “focus” and “share” phases still to come.

The survey may be taken on-line or by paper. The online survey is implemented as a number of pages, each concerning a topic. The first page is titled “Vision for Our Region: Please indicate your level of agreement with the following for developing a vision for the Wichita region. Our region should be a place that:” Following are several items like “all children have the chance to succeed.” Respondents are asked to select one of these responses for each item:

  • Strongly Disagree
  • Disagree
  • Undecided
  • Agree
  • Strongly Agree

The second page is titled “Strong Neighborhoods. Please indicate the importance of investing resources (time, human resources, money) in the following for developing and supporting safe and strong neighborhoods throughout our region.” A sample item is “Repair deteriorating homes to improve neighborhoods.” Respondents may choose from these responses:

  • Not important investment
  • Slightly important investment
  • Moderately important investment
  • Very important investment
  • Essential investment

There is no opportunity to answer in any way other than these responses. There is no possibility of leaving a comment.

The question of the importance of investment continues with slight variation for six more pages on these topics:

  • Economic Advantage and Opportunity
  • Transportation
  • Cultural Arts
  • Attractions and Entertainment
  • Education; Community Wellness
  • Wichita Riverfront and Downtown Development

Then a page titled Regional Perspectives: “Please tell us your thoughts about the following regional questions” where participants are asked to indicate their degree of agreement or disagreement with the following:

  • I think an increase in population would make the Wichita region thrive.
  • I am optimistic about the future of the Wichita region.
  • I think the Wichita region has to be willing to change to keep and attract the next generation.

Then there are some demographic questions.

Problems

First, the responses that the project will collect are from a self-selected group of respondents. There is no way to guarantee or know that the respondents are a representative sample of area residents. The focus groups had the same problem. This has been a problem with Wichita’s outreach in the past. In 2014 the city was quite proud of its engagement and positive response regarding the proposed city sales tax. Then, on election day, 62 percent of voters said no. 3 (Of course, those who vote are also a self-selected group of respondents. On the sales tax question, 103,290 people cast a vote. 4 For that year, the Census Bureau estimated there were 283,780 people of voting age in Wichita. 5 So 36.4 percent of the eligible voters made the decision for the rest, voters and non-voters, and also for those too young or ineligible to vote. But when we ask to settle issues by voting, voters are the people who make the decisions.)

Another problem has to do with the preface to the many questions asking about the importance of making investments in various things. What is missing is whose resources are to be invested? Yours? Mine? Someone we don’t know?

Related is that almost all the items participants are asked to rate are things that almost everyone agrees are good. Who could not strongly agree with investing so that “all children have the chance to succeed?” I suppose that some people might select “Very important investment” instead of “Essential investment” for some items. That might produce a shade of difference in the importance of items.

What would really be useful, however, is asking participants to rank the importance of investing in each item, from most important to least important, with no ties allowed. Instructions might be worded like “Rank the importance of investing in the following five areas. 1 is the most important investment, while 5 is the least important. You must assign a rank to each item, and there may be no ties.”

Then, to make things really useful: Ask participants to produce rankings for the importance of public sector investment, and separate rankings for the importance of private sector investment.

Understanding and distinguishing the difference between public and private investment is vital. When people believe that others will be paying, there is no limit to what people want. Milton Friedman knew this: “When a man spends his own money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about how much he spends and how he spends it. When a man spends his own money to buy something for someone else, he is still very careful about how much he spends, but somewhat less what he spends it on. When a man spends someone else’s money to buy something for himself, he is very careful about what he buys, but doesn’t care at all how much he spends. And when a man spends someone else’s money on someone else, he doesn’t care how much he spends or what he spends it on. And that’s government for you.” (For more, see Friedman: The fallacy of the welfare state.)

People recognize this. Remarks left on Facebook on the Project Wichita page 6 included this by one writer:

Just took survey! One would think “they” want to convert Wichita or Kansas to socialism. I’m a liberal conservative Democrat and yet questions are very concerning and disturbing.

Following up, the same person wrote:

Applaud the effort however many of the questions concerning me as it relates to governments role in community and well-being of such. … At what point should community and individuals be primarily responsible for many of the topics you address in your survey?

Another Facebook user wrote:

Your survey is great but you left out a very important piece of information. WHO is going to provide the money for the investments that are queried in your survey? A lot of areas need investment of funds but, those funds should come from the private sector, not public sector. As a result of the inability to discern a difference in the source of required investments, the survey is somewhat useless.”

Yet another from Facebook:

Each of your questions should be followed by the question, “How much are you personally willing to pay for this line item” or “Which government service should be eliminated to pay for this line item”. Your list will get quite short when people are asked to spend their own money rather than other people’s money.

These basic defects preclude this effort as being serious social science research. Yet, that is likely how it will be presented, especially since a university agency is involved.

Of note: Project Wichita has no official opinion as who should pay for these investments. Cynics — that is, realists — believe that programs like Project Wichita are designed to convince citizens to support increased taxes or debt issues to be repaid with future taxes, with those future taxes undoubtedly higher.

One reason for this suspicion is that portions of the Project Wichita process are being managed by Wichita State University’s Public Policy and Management Center. 7 Its director and its associated academics have a clear preference for higher taxes, at one time writing a paper advising cities to create “more willing taxpayers.” 8

Other people and companies that Project Wichita identifies as part of the “Vision Team” (or “funders”) also made large contributions to the campaign for a Wichita City sales tax in 2014:

  • Allen Gibbs & Houlik, L.C.
  • Jon Rolph and his company Sasnak
  • The Chandler family and Intrust Bank
  • GLMV Architecture
  • Emprise Bank
  • Spirit Aerosystems
  • Commerce Bank
  • Equity Bank
  • Cox Machine
  • Westar Energy
  • Professional Engineering Consultants
  • Star Lumber
  • Bothner & Bradley and its principals
  • Envision
  • Lubrication Engineers
  • Jeff Fluhr, head of Downtown Wichita and now also Greater Wichita Partnership

Some of these companies regularly receive economic development incentives from the City of Wichita or do business with the city. Some are subject to the city’s regulations such as zoning and permitting.

It’s difficult to digest all this without concluding that Project Wichita project is designed to develop a case — an appetite — for higher taxes. That’s even before realizing that the driving force behind Project Wichita — according to word on the street — is Jon Rolph, who was the chair of the campaign for the Wichita city sales tax in 2014. Further, Project Wichita is sharing offices with the Greater Wichita Partnership and Downtown Wichita, two organizations always in favor of the expansion of government.

Individual questions

Besides general problems with the survey instrument, there are these problems with individual items:

“Improve the current public transit system (e.g. expand routes, expand hours).” There may be support for spending public funds on this, even if it means raising taxes. This was one of the uses for the proposed Wichita city sales tax in 2014. It was bundled with other items, and voters defeated the tax.

“Make flights from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport more affordable.” We’ve spent a lot doing this. The city and the airport say the programs have been successful.

“Increase direct flights from Wichita Eisenhower National Airport.” This is an area that could use improvement. The number of departures and the number of available seats on departing flights has been underperforming the nation, despite much investment in the forms of tax-funded subsidies for airlines. There is also a new airport terminal.

“Offer more diverse entertainment options (e.g. music festivals, restaurants, theme parks).” There are many people trying to figure out what type of restaurants are wanted in Wichita, and where. These people are motivated by profit. It’s difficult to believe that government could do a better job of deciding upon, and operating, restaurants.

“Support entrepreneurial opportunities.” There is an organization doing this, e2e. More broadly, when the city offers economic development incentives, it makes it harder for young, entrepreneurial companies to survive as they must bear the cost of incentives and compete with incentivized companies for labor and capital. 9

Under education, a topic that is glaringly omitted is school choice. Parents like having the possibility of school choice, especially parents who can’t afford private school tuition. Plus, school choice, like charter schools, could help control “sprawl,” something that is often seen as a negative factor. If parents who want to live in central Wichita could have access to school choice in nearby schools, it might counter the commonly-held perception that if you want good schools for your children, you must buy a home outside the Wichita school district.

“Provide modern performing arts center (e.g. symphony, music theater, opera) that meets the region’s needs.” and “Provide a modern convention center that attracts more conventions and events.” These are topics that Wichita will likely be grappling with soon, and in a real way. Wichita has already hired a consultant to study this issue. (More information is at Century II resource center.) A task force is studying the issue. Soon, it is quite likely that residents of Wichita or Sedgwick County may be asked to approve a sales tax to fund a convention center and possible a performing arts center. Or, citizens suffer the implementation of Design Build Finance Operate and Maintain (DBFOM), or P3. In this model as applied to Wichita, a third party would do all the work of designing, financing, building, and operating a convention center and possibly a performing arts center. Then, the city simply pays a fee each year to use the center, called an “availability payment.” This is simple a way to disguise long-term debt. See Wichita about to commit to more spending. Bigly. for more about this.

Cynics — that is, realists — believe that programs like Project Wichita are designed to convince citizens to support these taxes or debt issues. (By the way, the convention center business is a poor way to build a city’s economy. See Should Wichita expand its convention facilities?.)


Notes

  1. Project Wichita. Available at https://www.projectwichita.org/.
  2. With the population of the city of Wichita at about 388,000, (U.S. Census Bureau. 2012-2016 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates), nearly one percent participated.
  3. Sedgwick County Election Office. Available at https://www.sedgwickcounty.org/elections/election-results/2014-general/.
  4. Ibid.
  5. U.S. Census Bureau. 2010-2014 American Community Survey 5-Year Estimates.
  6. Available at https://www.facebook.com/ProjectWichita/.
  7. “Volunteers wanted the regional 10-year vision and action plan Project Wichita process to include big discussions from as many people as possible. So Wichita State University’s (WSU) Public Policy and Management Center team built a custom process for gathering input across the region. The process includes focus groups with individuals and organizations, gathering feedback at diverse community events, online surveys and robust social media engagement.” Project Wichita. Process. Available at https://www.projectwichita.org/process.
  8. Misty Bruckner is the Director. A few years ago Brucker she and her colleagues co-authored a paper titled “Citizen Attachment: Building Sustainable Communities. See http://www.gfoa.org/sites/default/files/GFR_OCT_10_24.pdf. My reporting on it was titled Wichita needs more, and willing, taxpayers. An excerpt: “Increasingly, citizens are retreating from their responsibilities to community and demanding more from government than they are willing to pay for. But changes in local government behavior can be instrumental in reversing this trend, by strengthening citizens’ commitment to the well-being of their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are more willing to accept responsibility for the well-being of their fellow citizens and are also more likely to join with government and other parties to improve their communities. Citizens who are committed to community are also more willing taxpayers — that is, when government demonstrates that it can be trusted to invest public resources in ways that strengthen the community. The central thrust of this model is getting citizens and governments to work together, but realistically, many communities will require new revenue — including additional tax dollars — if they are to assemble the critical mass of resources necessary for meaningful change. Accordingly, citizens who are willing to pay increased taxes are an important component of building sustainable communities.” (emphasis added)
  9. See Weeks, Bob. Job creation at young firms declines. https://wichitaliberty.org/economics/job-creation-at-young-firms-declines/. Also: “Part of the cost of these companies’ investment, along with the accompanying risk, is spread to a class of business firms that can’t afford additional cost and risk. These are young startup firms, the entrepreneurial firms that we need to nurture in order to have real and sustainable economic growth and jobs. But we can’t identify which firms will be successful. So we need an economic development strategy that creates an environment where these young entrepreneurial firms have the greatest chance to survive. The action the Wichita city council is considering this week works against entrepreneurial firms.” Weeks, Bob. Wichita to grant property and sales tax relief. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/wichita-grant-property-sales-tax-relief/.

Wichita jobs up

Wichita employment trends are positive for three consecutive months.

Seasonally adjusted data from the Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, shows a rise in the Wichita metropolitan area labor force and job count. This data is through May 2018 and shows three consecutive months of rising employment.

This is a reversal of the long term trend for Wichita, in which the labor force and employment have been falling or trending steady while the nation’s economy has been growing. An interactive visualization of employment data for all metropolitan areas is available here.

While the upward trend is welcome, it is not known whether Wichita can sustain positive growth.

In May, the forecast for Wichita from Center for Economic Development and Business Research (CEDBR) at Wichita State University was pessimistic: “The production sectors are projected to remain approximately flat in 2018. Natural resources and construction employment is forecast to increase by less than 100 jobs while manufacturing employment is projected to decline by less than 100 jobs.”

This decline in manufacturing employment is forecast even after the new Spirit Aerosystems jobs are accounted for. In its reporting on this forecast, the Wichita Eagle wrote:

Late last year, Spirit, the city’s largest employer, announced plans to hire an additional 1,000 mostly production workers over two years, with the bulk of the hiring expected in 2018. Bombardier announced plans to add 100 jobs when it moves its Global 5000 business jet interior completions work from Canada to Wichita later this year.

“I’m not so sure all of the positive news means we’re growing,” [CEDBR director Jeremy] Hill said.

He said the gains at Bombardier and Spirit are offset by contraction and consolidation by smaller manufacturers that supply parts to Spirit and other aircraft manufacturers. In some cases, work the smaller firms have done has been taken back by larger manufacturers, who are now doing it themselves. Retirements in aircraft manufacturing may also be affecting the numbers, Hill said, but he doesn’t have the data to confirm that.

“It is hard to get your hands on,” he said. “It’s definitely not showing up in the (employment) numbers, not showing up in output in durables manufacturing.”

Wichita and U.S. employment. Click for larger.

Wichita and Midwest income

A look at income in Wichita compared to other Midwest cities.

How much do Wichitans earn at their jobs, compared to other cities?

Click for larger.
This data is of interest as recently James Chung told an audience that “average income” is $10,000 higher in Midwest comparable cities than in Wichita. He didn’t define the term “income,” he didn’t define the comparable cities, and he didn’t provide any sources of data. But mention of this is a good time to look at income in Wichita and other cities.

Occupational salaries

The Bureau of Labor Statistics, part of the United States Department of Labor, collects data regarding salaries of occupations in different cities in a program called Occupational Employment Statistics. More information about this program may be found here.

One way to examine income in different cities is to compare the salaries for different jobs using the OES data collected by BLS. I selected some cities to compare with Wichita: Cedar Rapids, IA; Colorado Springs, CO; Des Moines-West Des Moines, IA; Fayetteville-Springdale-Rogers, AR-MO; Kansas City, MO-KS; Oklahoma City, OK; Omaha-Council Bluffs, NE-IA; and Tulsa, OK. (The data is collected for Metropolitan Statistical Areas (MSAs), not cities. But it seems more natural to use the term city.)

The OES dataset is large, holding data on over 800 occupations, and it’s unwieldy to make apt comparisons. Besides what I report below, I’ve also created an interactive visualization of the OES data. In the interactive visualization, you may select any cities and occupations for comparison. Click here to learn more and use it.

Occupational salary example. Click for larger.
Considering all occupations for this sampling of cities, the annual salary in Wichita is $43,880, while it is $50,600 in Des Moines. That’s $6,720 lower in Wichita, or 13 percent.

Considering a few semi-random occupations: For buyers and purchasing agents, the highest salary is in Cedar Rapids at $75,830. The Wichita salary is $9,640 less, while the Des Moines salary is $15,070 less.

For food service managers, the highest salary is in Colorado Springs at $66,300. The Wichita salary is $1,520 less, while the Des Moines salary is $21,270 less.

For police officers, the highest salary is in Colorado Springs at $68,980. The Wichita salary is $21,670 less, while the Des Moines salary is $4,310 less.

For telemarketers, the highest salary is in Fayetteville at $27,760. The Wichita salary is $1,860 less, while the Des Moines salary is $2,100 less.

For the broad category of architecture and engineering occupations, Wichita is the leader in the sample at $82,710. Des Moines is at $71.930, which is $10,780 lower.

For the broad category of production workers, Wichita again leads the sample at $44,950, while Des Moines is at $35,190, which is $9,760 lower.

Personal income

Another set of data that can help is personal income. For Des Moines, personal income per person is $50,677 (complete year 2016). For Wichita, the value is $47,395, which is $3,282 less. (For an interactive visualization of personal income, see Visualization: Personal income by metropolitan area.)

Click for larger.

Difficulties

Comparing average salaries for groups of occupations in different cities has problems. One is the number of workers in occupations. Considering management occupations, there are few chief executive officers but many other managers. The weight of the number of workers needs to be considered.

Also, the magnitude of salaries is an issue. Chief executive officer salaries vary widely, by tens of thousands of dollars. The data tells us that a CEO in Wichita earns $65,400 less than in Des Moines. That variation is greater than the average salary across all occupations, and provides little insight into the salaries of the majority of workers.

The per capita personal income figures overcome these obstacles.

$10,000

Do Wichitans earn $10,000 less than in comparable Midwest cities, as James Chung recently presented? Based on per capita personal income, the answer is no. Not even close to that, although Wichita’s per capita income is not encouraging.

Based on occupational salaries, Wichitans earn less than many comparable Midwest cities, but nothing near $10,000 less when all occupations are considered. In specific occupations, Wichita salaries are much less, but in some cases Wichita salaries are highest.

Airport traffic statistics, 2017

Airport traffic data presented in an interactive visualization, updated through 2017.

A few observations regarding Wichita airport traffic as compared to the nation:

  • Since 2014, passenger traffic at the Wichita airport is slightly higher, while rising sharply for the nation.
  • The number of departures has been declining in Wichita, while level and now increasing for the nation.
  • The number of available seats on departing flights from Wichita has been mostly level, while rising sharply for the nation.

To view and use the interactive visualization, click here.

Example from the visualization, showing Wichita compared to all airports. Click for larger.

Wichita unemployment rate falls

For April 2018, the unemployment rate in the Wichita metropolitan area fell, and the number of jobs grew.

Today the Bureau of Labor Statistics released employment statistics for metropolitan areas through April 2018. These are numbers that are not seasonally adjusted, so it’s not very useful to compare any month with the month before. But it is appropriate to compare a month with the same month of the prior year.

The good news, sort of: The unemployment rate for the Wichita metro area declined to 3.6 percent in April 2018, down from 3.9 percent in April 2017. The number of unemployed persons also declined by 8.9 percent for the same period.

These numbers should be good news. But these two statistics don’t exist in a vacuum. Specifically, the unemployment rate is the ratio of the number of unemployed persons to the labor force. While the number of unemployed persons fell, so too did the labor force. It declined by 2,676 persons over the year, while the number of unemployed persons fell by 1,071. This produces a lower unemployment rate, but a shrinking labor force is not the sign of a healthy economy.

Click for larger.

A further indication of the health of the Wichita MSA economy is the number of nonfarm jobs. This rose by 100 from April 2017 to April 2018, an increase of 0.03 percent. This follows a decline of 0.5 percent from March 2017 to March 2018.

For April 2018, BLS reports:

Unemployment rates were lower in April than a year earlier in 305 of the 388 metropolitan areas, higher in 63 areas, and unchanged in 20 areas, the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics reported today. Eighty-eight areas had jobless rates of less than 3.0 percent and three areas had rates of at least 10.0 percent. Nonfarm payroll employment increased over the year in 312 metropolitan areas, decreased in 70 areas, and was unchanged in 6 areas. The national unemployment rate in April was 3.7 percent, not seasonally adjusted, down from 4.1 percent a year earlier. 1

Sources:
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 1. Civilian labor force and unemployment by state and metropolitan area, not seasonally adjusted. Available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.t01.htm.
Bureau of Labor Statistics. Table 3. Employees on nonfarm payrolls by state and metropolitan area, not seasonally adjusted. Available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.t03.htm.


Notes

  1. Bureau of Labor Statistics. Metropolitan Area Employment and Unemployment Summary. Wednesday, May 30, 2018. Available at https://www.bls.gov/news.release/metro.nr0.htm.

Wichita property tax still high on commercial property

An ongoing study reports that property taxes on commercial and industrial property in Wichita are high. In particular, taxes on commercial property in Wichita are among the highest in the nation.

Click for larger.
The study is produced by Lincoln Institute of Land Policy and Minnesota Center for Fiscal Excellence. It’s titled “50 State Property Tax Comparison Study, June 2017” and may be read here. It uses a variety of residential, apartment, commercial, and industrial property scenarios to analyze the nature of property taxation across the country. I’ve gathered data from selected tables for Wichita.

In Kansas, residential property is assessed at 11.5 percent of its appraised value. Commercial property is assessed at 25 percent of appraised value, and public utility property at 33 percent. (Appraised value is the market value as determined by the assessor. Assessed value is multiplied by the mill levy rates of taxing jurisdictions to compute tax.)

This means that commercial property faces 2.18 times the property tax rate as residential property. The U.S. average is 1.67. Whether higher assessment ratios on commercial property as compared to residential property is desirable public policy is a subject for debate. But because Wichita’s ratio is high, it leads to high property taxes on commercial property.

For residential property taxes, Wichita ranks below the national average. For a property valued at $150,000, the effective property tax rate in Wichita is 1.22 percent, while the national average is 1.39 percent. The results for a $300,000 property were similar.

Of note is the property taxes on a median-valued home. In this case Wichita is a bargain, due to our lower housing prices. A home at the median value in Wichita pays $1,513 in taxes, while the nationwide average is $3,343. (The median home value in Wichita is $124,400, and for the nation, $262,772, according to this report.)

Looking at commercial property, Wichita taxes are high. For example, for a $100,000 valued property, the study found that the national average for property tax is $2,319 or 1.93 percent of the property value. For Wichita the corresponding values are $3,261 or 2.72 percent, ranking ninth highest among the 50 largest cities. Wichita property taxes are 41 percent higher than the national average, for this scenario.

For industrial property taxes, the situation in Wichita is better, with Wichita ranking near the middle of the 50 largest cities. For an industrial property worth $1,000,000, taxes in Wichita are $29,681. The national average is $32,264.

Downtown Wichita business trends

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There has been much public and private investment in Downtown Wichita. What has been the trend in business activity during this time?

According to the 2017 report from Wichita Downtown Development Corporation (now known as Downtown Wichita), over the past decade there has been $593,868,858 in private investment, $160,522,002 in public investment, and $171,087,276 investment in Intrust Bank Arena. That’s $925 million of investment in downtown over this period, with more before. 1

What has been the result of this investment? If you expected business growth in downtown Wichita, you may be disappointed. For the past decade business activity in downtown Wichita has been on a downhill trend. The data for 2016 is a bit of good news, with the decline stopping and business activity remaining mostly unchanged. It isn’t the vibrant growth we’ve been told is happening in downtown Wichita, but at least things are not getting worse.

The data

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The United States Census Bureau tracks business data by zip code. 2 The data that is available includes the number of business establishments, the number of employees, and the annual payroll, expressed in thousands of dollars not adjusted for inflation. It includes private-sector workers only, so it does not count all workers.

Nearby are results for zip code 67202, which has nearly the same boundaries as the Self-Supporting Municipal Improvement District (SSMID). This is a district that pays extra property tax for supporting the WDDC. Its boundaries, roughly, are from Kellogg north to Central, and the Arkansas River east to Washington. It is greater Downtown Wichita plus Old Town.

The results since 2007 show fewer business establishments, fewer people working downtown, and lower earnings generated in downtown Wichita. In nearly all cases for nearly all years, the trend is lower — except for 2016.

For 2016 the numbers are nearly unchanged, with only small changes from the previous year. The number of business establishments is down slightly, while the number of employees and annual payroll rose, also slightly.

Except for 2016, this is movement in the wrong direction, the opposite of progress. And 2016 represents merely a stop in the downhill slide, not growth. There may be good news in that the number of people living downtown may be rising. But in estimating the population of downtown Wichita, economic development officials use a circuitous method. The result of their calculations is a population much higher than Census Bureau estimates, far outside the range of probable results. 3

But business activity has been declining.

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Notes

  1. Downtown Wichita. State of Downtown Report, 2017. https://downtownwichita.org/user/file/2017-state-of-downtown-report-download.pdf.
  2. U.S. Census Bureau. County Business Patterns (CBP). https://www.census.gov/programs-surveys/cbp/data.html.
  3. Weeks, Bob. Living in downtown Wichita. Available at https://wichitaliberty.org/wichita-government/living-downtown-wichita/.